Tuesday, January 24, 2017

George Couros, Connectedness, Twitter And a Challenge

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of listening to George Couros. George was the keynote speaker for ESU 8's Winter Workshop. This is not the first time I have heard George and I certainly hope it won't be the last. I learn something new every time I hear George. George always pushes me to think differently and I appreciate that.

I sat down this morning to send an email to my administrators summarizing my thoughts on George's presentation. And then I thought, this message should be bigger. So I decided to do a blog post instead.

Here are the Tweets I sent out during George's session yesterday.

It's no secret, I love Twitter. And I love what it has done for me as an educator. I get so many ideas from Twitter. I strive to do better because of all of the awesome things I see people sharing on Twitter. Twitter makes me want to do more, try new things, be a better educator. Prior to Twitter, I thought I was good at my job. After joining Twitter, I realized I had so much more to learn.

George said a lot of great things yesterday. But two things in particular resonated with me:

When I first started my teaching career, I taught in a small town in the middle of nowhere - the sign outside town literally proclaimed it the "middle of nowhere." I was fortunate that I had another business teacher in my school that I could collaborate with. When I first started my teaching career, the Internet was just coming to K-12 education. So those first years, I had the teacher next door and got to meet occasionally with other business teachers at the ESU or at a statewide conference. But isolation was definitely a thing back then.

George said "isolation is a choice educators make." I couldn't agree more. We have so many simple ways to connect. No longer do we just have to learn from the teacher down the hall. We can learn from teachers all over the world. If you choose not to take advantage of the power of technology to connect, that is your choice.

Illiterate is a strong word. George used it when talking about hashtags and Twitter handles. If you don't know what those two things are (and I would add how they work) you are becoming illiterate. What? Teachers illiterate? Wow. Big statement but I completely agree. At one point in time it was okay to think, "Oh this Twitter thing. It is just a flash in the pan. It isn't here to stay." Twitter launched in 2006. People, Twitter is TEN YEARS OLD! As of March 2016, Twitter had 310 MILLION active users. Twitter is here to stay and you can no longer ignore it. 

So you don't know how to use Twitter and you are scared. I get it! I was the same way when I first started using Twitter four and half years ago. What do you do when you don't know how to do something? Reach out to someone for help! I would love to help you on your Twitter journey. My good friend, Craig Badura, offers these five tips for Twitter newbies. But don't be afraid to reach out to someone for help. It is okay to ask for help. 

Now, this is where I need to get real with my administrator friends for a minute. I hope George got you thinking about yourself and your "connectedness" and your use of technology. Now might be the perfect time to dust off that Twitter handle and get in the game! And it might be time to encourage your teachers to do the same. We cannot expect our teachers to take the leap if we don't first. Buildings who have technology using principals have technology using teachers. Buildings who have principals who are willing to take a risk when it comes to technology and put themselves out there, have teachers who are willing to take risks when it comes to technology. I have seen this first hand! In my buildings where I have technology using, Tweeting administrators, I have technology using, Tweeting teachers. If you want your teachers to feel comfortable with trying new things with technology, you as the administrator have to model that. I can't get more real than that.

This was my first Tweet, June 27, 2012

Over the last four and a half years I have Tweeted 18,526 times. I have shared thousands of resources with teachers but have gotten so much more in return. I have met amazing people on Twitter many of whom I call my friends and many of whom I have never met face to face. These people encourage me, support me, challenge me and make me a better educator. I have chosen to be connected. The time is now. Make a choice. Do you choose isolation or connection? Do you choose to be illiterate or educated? It is scary but it is absolutely worth it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Favorite Things of 2016

For the last two years, I have written a blog post summarizing my favorite things of the past year. We are two weeks in to 2017 so I better get going on my favorites of 2016.

First of all, how this first favorite got left off of my 2015 list is beyond me because it was a favorite in 2015 and is still a favorite in 2016. I have to start with Seesaw. Seesaw is a digital portfolio tool for students. But it is so much more than that! Students are able to document and share their learning with Seesaw. Who can they share with? Their teacher, other students and even their parents. Parents can access their child's portfolio via the Parent Seesaw app for iOS, Android or Kindle Fire. Parents can also access Seesaw on the web. Students can add pictures, videos, notes, drawings and work done in other apps to Seesaw. Seesaw is so easy to use, students can use the app with little to no training. Teachers have a wide array of options for customizing Seesaw to work in their classroom. From the sign in method to comments from students to organizing posts into folders, teachers can customize all of those options and more. I have been in education for over 23 years and I have seen a lot of ed tech tools come and go. But I have never seen anything like Seesaw. This one tool can do so much for your classroom. Whether you have enough devices for every student or you have devices your students share, Seesaw works. If you have iPads or Chromebooks or laptops, Seesaw works. This is one tool every teacher should try! To get started, check out Seesaw's resources. The Seesaw team works hard to make sure teachers have everything they need to get started. You can also check out my Seesaw LiveBinder, full of tips and tricks to help you use Seesaw.

If you know me, you know that I love technology probably more than the average person. So some may find it strange that my next favorite thing of 2015 has really nothing to do with technology. Breakout EDU is an immersive learning game that has students using criticial thinking, teamwork and problem solving to solve a series of challenges. This one activity works on all of those soft skills that students use on a daily basis but are often difficult to assess. Breakout EDU works for every age level Kindergarten to adults and in every curriculum area. After purchasing one kit in the Spring of 2015, I wrote a grant to our Foundation to purchase one kit for every building in our district. I have written multiple blog posts about my Breakout EDU obsession including one on how I got started and one on how I introduce Breakout EDU to teachers. If you are looking for a way to spice up any lesson, Breakout EDU is the way to do it!

Piktochart is a tool I have used for several years but I have turned to it more frequently as of late so it seemed right to include it in my list of 2016 favorites. Piktochart is an infographic creation tool. This free tool has a variety of templates to start with or you can create you own infographic from scratch. I tend to gravitate to tools who like educators and Piktochart is a friend to the education community. The last couple of years they have reduced the price of their premium account especially for educators. I was able to purchase the Pro account for just $20! The normal education pricing for a Pro account is $39.99 for one year. I like to use Piktochart to create infographics for my teachers. My infographics don't include a lot of numerical data but they do include directions for using tools. I like the layout of an infographic for this. I also like that I can save the infographic as an image and insert that image into an email. It is just one more way that I can deliver information to my teachers. Here are a few of the infographics I created this year:
Piktochart is a great tool to use with students as well. However, the Piktochart Privacy Policy does state that parental permission is required for anyone under the age of 13. Please keep that in mind if you intend to use Piktochart with younger students.

My final favorite for 2015 is Creative Commons images. When I was in the classroom six years ago, it was not easy to find images that were copyright free and appropriate to use in student projects. Sure you could go to Google or Bing and find thousands of images but most of them came with a copyright. That is not the same today. Creative Commons licenses allow creators of the work to license it so that it can be used by others without having to contact the owner for permission. There are so many options for Creative Commons licensed material (images, music, video) that to not teach our students about Creative Commons is doing them a huge disservice. I think this topic is so important, I put together a LiveBinder to help teachers help students understand Creative Commons. In the LiveBinder you will find information on explaining Creative Commons to students as well as information to help them understand why you can't use that image off of a Google image search. And I have included lots of sites to find Creative Commons licensed images, video and music. Here are my favorite sites to find Creative Commons images:
While all of these sites have an option for creating an account, all can be used without creating an account making them perfect to use in the classroom.

Bonus Favorite!

My bonus favorite has actually been a favorite of mine for the last year and a half. My bonus favorite is my standing desk. I had back surgery three and a half years ago and any amount of sitting isn't good for my back. In this job, if I happen to be in my office all day, I sit. A lot. All of that sitting takes a toll. Sure, I would get up and move occasionally and I would pick up my phone or iPad and try to continue working but I didn't feel very productive. So when a year of sitting sent me back to the doctor (no pun intended), I knew I had to do something different. I had seen the research related to standing while working and looked at a variety of standing desk products. Since I had just moved into a new office with brand new office furniture, I needed to adapt what I already had. Ergotron has a great product that sits right on top of my existing desk. I use the Move It Chrome extension and set that for 30 minutes. When Move It pops up I switch from a standing to a sitting position or vice versa. The Ergotron desk has hand-brake levers on either side that lower and raise the desk. I can position the desk at the height that is right for me. And best of all, I can continue working. I have been much more productive with this standing desk and my back feels great.